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Night University 2016 - Face your Fears!

Mysterious rustlings in the undergrowth, sudden screams, and eerie noises by scary creatures. Visitors hurried to reach one of the many venues unscathed, only to discover that, even in the safety of the lecture rooms, it was all about Facing Your Fears during the fourth edition of Night University!

Did you miss the successful Night University campus festival on October 5? No worries if you did: below you will find how you can cope with your FoMO feeling (Fear of Missing Out).

Facing Your Fears during Night University

Alderwoman Marcelle Hendrickx, responsible for education in the Tilburg City Council, held the opening speech for Night University. “I think it is very important that the university is part of the city and the city is part of the university. With this event, Tilburg University contributes perfectly to its motto of Understanding Society. This evening’s theme links up with situations in society: there is a lot of fear around.”

Talking about fear: in his opening words, Rector Magnificus Emile Aarts jested that he had feared that no one would turn up for Night University. That fear proved unfounded: all the lecture halls were packed to capacity. The 2200 visitors formed a colorful crowd of students, members of staff, and Tilburg residents. Aarts: “I just love it to see all these different people milling around the campus. They are looking around with curiosity, some look a bit out of their depth; perhaps they’re here for the first time. With Night University, we are showing that we are right at the center of the Tilburg community.”

Just like alderwoman Hendrickx, Aarts sees fear play a prominent role in present-day society. “This evening’s theme is has not come out of the blue. We are living in a complex society, in which people need to process more information in one day than medieval people in a lifetime. It is up to us as a university to help people become resilient. But we do so with humor and a healthy dose of self-irony – especially on a cheerful night like tonight.”

A smile and a tear

There was a lot to learn about fear tonight. From the fear of eating locusts (“I did spit out the last bit,” admitted ten-year-old Lars) and a virtual rollercoaster ride to fear of death and the rise of the robots. Scientists presented their research in interactive lectures. PhD student Alice Bosman explained what facial expressions do and do not tell you. “I presented the information completely differently from what I normally do. I’ve really tried to make it understandable for everybody. A professor is regularly called by a newspaper, but we young researchers do not often get the opportunity to present our research in a way that is accessible to a non-expert audience.”

Night University is extremely important for the connection between the university and its environment, says Ton Wilthagen, Professor of Institutional and Legal Aspects of the Labor Market. “The students and staff often do not have the time to foster this connection. But it is crucial for a university, especially ours, to be open to the outside world. What happened tonight during the session on reshoring with the City of Tilburg and Capi Europe is a superior form of valorization: a true exchange emerged between the City officials, entrepreneurs, students, researchers, and other interested people. Afterwards, the discussions continued in small groups; an appointment was made. This human interaction has great added value. People don’t know us, they drive past the campus. In the morning, these visitors will tell people at work or at home about us.


Labor economist Ronald Dekker: “Night University gives me the opportunity to experiment with other forms of knowledge transfer, to a different audience and, in this case, in collaboration with colleagues with whom I would not normally be together in a lecture hall. And of course I hope that the visitors liked it too.”

“Initially, I was a bit skeptical about Night University,” admits Professor of Elderly Care Katrien Luijkx. “I was asked to participate in a debate lasting till 11 in the evening, which is way past my usual bedtime! But it was surprisingly good fun, and interactive as well. And the atmosphere on the campus, with stalls, lights, and a campfire, is also completely different from the daytime. I would not have missed it for the world.”

Afraid of Donald as well as Hillary!

At Night University, Dutch journalist Charles Groenhuijsen lectured on what could be called the Elections of Fear. Trump’s voice in fact reflects the deep-seated fear and anger of the American lower and middle classes: fear of losing your job, fear of big companies outsourcing to Asia, and fear of Mexican immigration. The democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who ultimately gave his support to Hillary, also had supporters among the frightened lower classes and the angry middle classes. They might just switch their allegiance to Trump.

There is a similar situation in the Netherlands ,with the PVV and the SP catering to the same constituency. One nervous or angry voter will veer to the left, the other to the right. A questionnaire that Groenhuijsen presented to his audience showed that 67% of the Dutch would vote for Hillary, and ‘only’ 17% for Trump. Among PVV voters, as many as 34% preferred Clinton. Women have little time for the behavior of ‘Bokito Trump’, but ‘Überbitch’ Clinton has her limitations, too.

The chances of Clinton winning the elects is 75% as opposed to 25% for Trump. According to Groenhuijsen, these calculations by the American statistician and writer Nate Silver offer a realistic estimate of the outcome. See this interesting website. When asked who would vote for Trump, nobody raised their hand in the Auditorium, but many hands are raised for Hillary. Groenhuijsen himself states he will vote for Clinton with a heavy heart: she is the best of the worst. On November 8, we will know the outcome of ‘The greatest political show on earth’.

FoMO: Fear of Missing Out

Why are we spending so much time on our smart phones? Why do we want to be constantly connected and know what other people are or are not doing? We seem to be afraid of missing some rewarding event or experience. And that stresses out modern (young) people. We need to regularly check Facebook or Twitter, even in the bedroom or when taking a relaxing walk. We need to learn to deal with the challenges of resisting these digital intrusions. They cater to this fear of missing out with messages like ICYMI: In Case You Missed It.

Researcher Piia Varis give her audience the following advice: “Selective attention is a skill. Be selective and make choices.” Because there is also such a thing as TMO: Too Much Information.

Giphart and Mismatch

Ronald Giphart shows a picture of a spider. That many people are afraid of spiders or snakes is rooted in evolution. In the US, spiders and snakes kill 50 people every year (usually their owners), but how about cars? Hardly anybody in the audience is afraid of cars. That instinctive fear is not in our system, even though there are 50,000 road fatalities in the US every year!

The well-known Dutch author (Ik ook van jou, Philaine zegt sorry, Harem, and recently Lieve) shows more examples of so-called mismatches: women who are on the pill are less attracted to macho men because the pregnancy hormones in their bodies make them prefer a caring partner. When they stop using the pill, these women wonder what made them choose such a softy. Mismatch.

Our food preferences also originate is a very distant evolutionary past. Our bodies tell us to stop after taking in a certain amount of fat, sugar, or salt. But our brain is not programmed to warn us for the unnatural combination of fat, sugar, and salt, so we keep mindlessly digging into that bag of crisps. Mismatch. And now we are suffering from obesity, depression, and cardiovascular diseases.

Humor also involves a mismatch. We laugh about a joke in which two apparently irreconcilable things are linked. The brain signals a mismatch. And we laugh! But he who laughs last is the slowest thinker!

Fear of death

There are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. But when and how you are going to die, that is the questions. Fear of death is one of the acutest fears most of us have. That fear often causes physical reactions like an increased heart rate, perspiration, and muscle tension. People are not equally afraid; a lot depends on character. The fear of the unknown is often greater than the fear of death itself, says Annette Vekemans of hospice De Sporen. People worry about the last phase, the fear of leaving family and friends behind, the fear of pain.

Two to three times a month, volunteer Arie van Turnhout from the ‘Ambulance Wish’ foundation drives a terminal patient to a place or event that is on the patient’s bucket list. At this stage, most people no longer struggle with fear but want to do something special one last time. Arie has witnessed gratitude and acceptance in such moments. ‘I can go in peace now.’ Beyond fear.

Take also a look at the photo album on the Tilburg University Facebook page for an impression of the evening.

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